Abandoned Backpacks as Domestic Terror   6 comments

From Bruce Schneier’s blog.

As a public service, let me now inform you, gentle readers, of some statistics.

Between 1988 and 1997, a ten year period, 427 people were killed by explosive devices, a rate of 42.7 per year. By comparison, 5,702 people died due to fatal occupational injuries in 2005. The American Cancer Society estimates 564,830 deaths in the US from cancer in 2006. Stroke killed 150,147 people in 2004. Coronary heart disease gave another 452,300 victims to the reaper in 2004. Ah, you say, but I’m in pretty good health, I work out and eat healthy (which makes you a rare citizen of this country), and I’m totally paranoid, so I’ll just park it at home and I’ll be safe, right?

Sorry, nope.

3,030 people killed in home fires in the U.S. in 2005 (not counting the firefighters actually trying to put the things out). 3,306 unintended, non-boating related drownings in 2003. 13,700 people over the age of 65 died in 2003 from injuries sustained in a fall. 23,157 accidental poisoning deaths in 2003. All in all, 2,487,415(.9) people in the US are projected to shuffle off their mortal coil in 2007… which means (assuming that the 42.7 number is a reasonably accurate guess for 2007) that explosive-related deaths represent .00017% of the overall fatalities in the US every year.

Or, yet another way of looking at it, the population of the US is 301,139,947 (according to the aforelinked CIA factbook) which means one out of every 7,052,458 people will die from an explosive device, so the probability that you’ll be hoisted by someone’s petard is approximately .00000001418.

Now, this isn’t strictly speaking a rigorous analysis, because I’m grabbing statistics that are easily accessbile with a web search instead of doing a proper year-by-year correlation study, but any way you want to look at it, the likelihood of you being killed by an explosive device is so fantastically small in comparison to the thousands of other ways in which you can have your ticket punched that worrying about it is… well, actually, probably doing nothing more than increasing your likelihood of being one of the 65 million people in this country who suffer from high blood pressure (which leads to those stroke and heart disease fatalities as well as kidney failure and other things that also will make you dead as a doornail).

So, if you see an abandoned backpack, don’t lose your mind and call the bomb squad. Just check it for identifying information and turn it into the lost and found.


Posted April 19, 2007 by padraic2112 in news, security

6 responses to “Abandoned Backpacks as Domestic Terror

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  1. The bad thing with statistics is that when you are the one at the gunpoint they don’t count anymore.

    So, maybe dying of gunfire is not that probable but is that the question that one should ask?

    IMHO I think that those 3030 people wouldn’t die if it wasn’t that easy to get a gun. What the statistic also doesn’t refer to is the side-effects of a gun killing, e.g. relatives’ anger and dispersion of angst and fear.

  2. @ Zerog

    A couple of things.

    > The bad thing with statistics is that when you are the one
    > at gunpoint they don’t count anymore.

    This is true, but if you’re not going to cower in fear in the corner of your house for your entire life, you have to look a life as a series of risk-taking events. You cannot reasonably base your judgment of how to live your life based upon failure events, or you’ll be frozen with indecision.

    In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to experience fear, but when you let it rule your decision making process you’ve lost.

    > So, maybe dying of gunfire is not that probable but is
    > that the question that one should ask?

    First, this post is not about guns, it’s about reasonable risk analysis regarding abandoned backpacks (or, for that matter, anything else that people, for some reason, mis-identify as a bomb). Firearms aren’t the issue in this post (in fact, they aren’t mentioned anywhere).

    So I’m uncertain as to the point of your comment 🙂

    Second, I’m not sure where you’re getting the 3,030 number.

    Yes, there are murders committed with firearms. There are also accidental deaths that are attributable to firearms. One of the reasons why I post all these statistics is to show that people are poor at performing proper risk analysis ; in other words, people are way more worried about the less worrisome aspects of life than they ought to be, and far less worried about the most worrisome aspects of life than they ought to be.

    So, yes, this is exactly the question that one should ask.

    I know people that have personal experience of gun violence. I understand the horrible effects of death and injury on family and friends. I also know that for every person I know who has a story about gun violence, I know hundreds that have experienced the same feelings of loss and anger and guilt regarding the death of loved ones by accident, mischance, or disease.

    Currently in this country ordinary citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms. As I’ve posted on other blogs, I believe that this right, as well as the other rights both explicitly and implicitly (by Article X) outlined in the Constitution, are rights that we as citizens ought not to infringe upon without clear and significant advantage in safety. There are therefore certainly reasonable steps that we can and ought to take to control access to guns, for example.

    If you took all of the resources that have been spent on *both* sides of the gun control debate and instead put those resources to use in, say, health care, you would go a lot farther towards reducing those feelings of loss and anger and guilt, because you would save tens or hundreds of thousands of lives instead of a few thousand, not to mention improve the quality of life of millions of other people afflicted with disease.

    I’m not insensitive to people that have lost loved ones to violence of any sort. My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the VA Tech killings, as a father and a husband (and an employee of a college) I can well comprehend the utter misery and horror they must be experiencing.

    The fact remains that this event, however, is a wild aberration in human society. It represents a particular sort of crazed behavior that is so stunningly rare, so fantastically beyond the norm that assigning it any sort of weight in your decision making process represents a huge disservice to those that are effected by those things that are major societal problems.

    Disease, poverty, homelessness, mental health, access to education, economic opportunity, societal justice, bias and bigotry… those are problems that are worth debate and the expenditure of resources.

  3. Whoa man! That’s what I call a long reply 🙂

    Now, I understand that bearing guns is a civil right in US but (tell me if I’m wrong) this is supposed to give you people the means to protect your liberty and civil rights and it’s rooted back when your ancestors had to fight English. I’m not good in American history but I seriously doubt whether guns have contributed to anything else than home fires since that (long gone) era.

    I admire certain aspects of Americans. Their passion for personal autonomy and liberty is one of them but the bottom line with that story is that every now and then a psycho (and psychos are not inherent to your society – they exist everywhere) will easily arm him/herself and go on to the next rampage. Of course statistically is rather improbable that any one of use will be a victim of these gun fires but so are a number of other things that you actively fight. Drugs could be a good example I think.

    I must also point out that psycho rampages are rare but we couldn’t say the same about armed robberies, home disputes that end up in firing and the like.

    One more thing, just for the record. I heard there was a similar situation in Australia and government there bought all guns before banning them. Things got better afterwards.

    And anyway, I’m not that much into statistics. See, statistically whether smoking is bad or not is still under discussion. Yet, I bet you wouldn’t start smoking based on that scientific controversy.

    I don’t know man. It’s your country. You’re free to decide your way of living.

    That was just my two cents on the matter.

    PS: About where that 3030 came from: “3,030 people killed in home fires in the U.S. in 2005” in the post.

  4. Correction:
    “…that any one of use will be a victim of these gun fires…”
    due to keyboard mistyping “us” was coverted to “use”.

    I meant
    “…that any one of us will be a victim of these gun fires…”

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